CHARLOTTE – Outside of the circles in which quarterback Cam Newton runs, not many people are giving the Panthers much of a chance to beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on their hallowed home turf.
That's not breaking news to Newton. It's also not news that will break him.
"No matter what the predictions are, the game still has to be played," Newton said. "I'm excited about this opportunity. We're not shying away from competition. This is a great Seahawks team we're playing. We understand that. We know that. We will be ready to go."
Newton said the game is a chance for the Panthers, left for dead after a six-game losing streak earlier this season, to prove to outsiders but also to themselves that they belong. They're in the midst of an unlikely, impressive run, having reeled off five consecutive victories to advance to the NFC Divisional Playoff, but the Seahawks pose far and away their greatest challenge to date.
"When you win football games, you must be doing something right. At the same time, I'm not hanging my hat on those wins," Newton said. "We feel like we can play better, and the truth of the matter is we need to play better versus those guys."
Newton and the Panthers have hosted the Seahawks each of the last three seasons, and each time a strong defensive showing hasn't been quite enough in narrow losses. The Seahawks have led the NFL in scoring defense for three consecutive seasons, so it's not an indictment of the Panthers that they've averaged just 11 points in the three meetings.
In those games, Newton has completed 40-of-74 passes for 437 yards and one touchdown with one interception and two lost fumbles. He's rushed 24 times for 104 yards and has been sacked eight times. In six trips to the red zone, Carolina has found the end zone once.
How can Newton produce a little more against such a stingy defense? Perhaps by not necessarily trying to do more.
"He has to play consistently and take what they give him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's so competitive and wants to make things happen, but exercising the right type of patience would be good. They're a physical, aggressive group. You have to make sure you're not trying to force things. That's something he's learning.
"If he plays like he has in some of these games over this last stretch of five, there are some really good possibilities for us. Just look at the things he did against New Orleans and Atlanta. Those are the kind of performances we're looking for."
Newton was magnificent in those division matchups down the stretch, games that happened to be played on the road. Saturday, he'll try to take his act on the road again, this time at famously loud CenturyLink Field for the first time in his career.
"I think you can just go to the Guinness Book of World Records, and they can tell you that. I don't need anybody to tell me," Newton said of the stadium's notorious noise level, which was a world record before Arrowhead Stadium and the Kansas City Chiefs claimed the title earlier this season. "I'm predicting it to be loud, but I'm predicting us to play well as well.
"If we execute, it's going to hard for them to cheer, but if we don't, it's going to be easy for them to cheer."
Wednesday, Newton tried to drown out the noise being made about the relevance of recent meetings between the teams. He said film study of past meetings has been helpful and that the Seahawks are going to be a handful no matter how you slice it, but Saturday's outcome is really all that matters.
"They're a different team. We're a different team than six games ago. That's the truth," Newton said. "The team that plays the best will win."